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Christmas 2016 – How Retailers Can Win With Digital7 min read

7 min read

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. At Google. In July. It might seem disconcertingly premature, but this is how it works for retailers – despite the big day being five and a half months away, it’s time to start planning your strategy now.  With 50% total sales volume for many retailers happening in the 8 weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s clear that winning at Christmas means winning at digital. From pavlova being set for a resurgence and increased searches for Christmas cocktails this year, I learnt about the key events and online trends that retailers need to get behind for a fruitful Christmas at Google’s ‘[email protected]’ event last week.

Here’s a timeline of the key events leading up to a successful digital Christmas for retailers:


The first Christmas ads start now (cue cries of this being far too early, but we all know we love it really). We can expect to see emotive ads that generate high levels of social engagement, press coverage and impassioned conversations at work. Here’s a reminder of the power of Christmas ads done well.

We’ve seen retailers continuing to raise the stakes year on year as they seek to capture the nation’s hearts. Let’s not forget some of the best we’ve ever seen in recent years, from John Lewis’ Monty The Penguin, to Sainsbury’s depiction of Mog’s Christmas Calamity and Harvey Nichols’ #GiftFace, ahh how I love them all!


The Christmas ad battle is only intensifying, and it’s quickly gaining more power beyond the realm of traditional TV:  Christmas-related searches on YouTube are up to 50 million, which reinforces it as the home of Christmas video.  The pressure is on for the main contenders –  Sainsbury’s, John Lewis, Burberry and M&S (based on YouTube Christmas ad views) to come up with a compelling ad. Crucially, brands are investing 67% more each year in promoting these video ads digitally. We’ve also seen brands reacting quickly to each other’s ads – Aldi turned around its parody to John Lewis’ Man On The Moon ad within weeks, successfully promoting its lower prices in the process! Take a look at this blog for more insight on YouTube’s rising status versus traditional TV.

An exciting development to watch out for this festive season will be the YouTube six-second Bumper ads, a new ad format that is better suited to smartphone viewing. I’m interested to see how retailers adapt to this and the creative solutions they come up with.

Anyone in the digital industry working with Google will know all about YouTube’s ‘hero, hub and hygiene’ content strategy. Some of the best brands did this really well at Christmas 2015 – looking at John Lewis’ activity, its ‘Hero’ content is perfectly encapsulated by #ManOnTheMoon – a beautiful, cinematic ad that immediately garnered the attention of the masses. Moving to Hygiene content and this video on Christmas Gift Wrapping shows how the brand captures its audience’s core interests. Meanwhile, ‘Hub’ content such as Behind the scenes of #ManOnTheMoon targets the prime prospect whilst being regularly pushed out.


Back to the timeline, and we’re moving swiftly towards the middle of November – the time children start making their Christmas lists. Whether naughty or nice, retailers better start getting prepared here for another major spending explosion – the average parent is apparently willing to shell out 15 per cent more than the usual retail price on a Christmas gift for their child.

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Mid November and it’s time to start preparing for the colossal Black Friday. Last year it hit on 27th November and saw the biggest day in history for online sales, with £1.1bn generated in transactions. This year online sales are predicted to be even higher as the nation’s appetite for consumption grows exponentially.

Let’s take a look behind the scenes of this shopping madness and how retailers can set themselves up for success:

  • Interestingly, the biggest day in the retail calendar is actually happening earlier – retailers are delivering offers up to five days before in ‘pre-black Friday’ sales. They can get the edge here by spreading their budgets for sales through the week, rather than honing in exclusively on the Friday.
  • In 2015 there was a 52% higher number of product-specific searches on Black Friday than in 2014: people know what they want now rather than just searching for generic ‘Black Friday’ deals.
  • It’s an early start for many shoppers as they hit their devices at 6am on the day to ensure they get hold of the best bargains. It’s crucial to make sure that your site is adequately prepared for huge traffic volumes and that there is enough stock to meet this demand.
  • Have you got your mobile strategy right? Last year 25% of Black Friday sales were made via mobile and is expected to double to a whopping 50%+ this year, as consumers place more trust in shopping via their smartphones than ever before.
  • An impressive 44% of users start their product searches on Amazon on Black Friday, with 34% looking to search engines first. Amazon Shopping as well as Google Search is a must to capitalise on this period for retailers.
  • Last year search activity on Google around Black Friday began in late September according to Google Trends. Retailers must get their Google shopping campaigns prepared and budgeted for. The benchmark for retailers for shopping is now 52% of spend of their PPC budget in peak season! So your shopping campaign must be solid. Read more about this on our blog here.
  • Have a clear audience strategy, ensure you can measure and attribute everything, and stress test everything to ensure you can cope with the high demand. There’s a great case study here on the audience of audiences and the importance of re-marketing by Clarks.
  • On Black Friday Google actually recommends manual bidding strategies over automated. This is because Black Friday traffic is so unpredictable, that the bidding strategies are not sophisticated enough to cope with this. The safest option is to adopt manual bidding where there is likely to be high demand, and to keep a close eye on them! This means no tea and biscuit breaks on Black Friday too!
  • Showcase Shopping ads are launching in the next few weeks which will allow users to peruse product collections from both local and online merchants. They will be huge at Christmas in those research stages for the consumers.


The next milestone is the second week of December – it’s time to start planning who’s coming and what the menu is for the family. It’s also Christmas party week – people will be doing last-minute research for outfits to wear to impress – this panic-buying will continue until Christmas Day.


Queries on mobile peak on Christmas Day, with users filling the post-Christmas dinner afternoon lull (and perhaps avoiding family members) with some mobile browsing. Google is expecting more queries on mobile than any other device come Christmas 2016 for retail, estimating that 51% of queries will be on mobile for retail related searches.

Mobile is key for the whole period, but demand is hard to predict. If you’re a home wear retailer, interestingly, there’s actually more searches for home related products in the six days following Boxing Day. This is most likely because people have time off, they are at home and it’s the perfect time to start shopping for your home. The key strategy for home retailers in this time is re-marketing to ensure those bigger ticket items get sold!


Once the day itself is over, the shopping doesn’t stop from Boxing Day until January. Online is driving physical store sales – according to Google, 1 in 3 online orders at Christmas are click and collect.

Christmas 2016 is certainly going to be an exciting time for retailers, with a spread of new developments and ever increasing shopper appetite. The ones who can crack a solid digital strategy will be well on their way to festive success. Take my advice – make a list, check it twice and get excited for a digital Christmas in 2016!